Livestock Research for Rural Development 23 (8) 2011 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Reproduction and breeding in dromedary camels: insights from pastoralists in some selected villages of the Nigeria-Niger corridor

A M Abdussamad*, W Holtz*, M Gauly*, M S Suleiman** and M B Bello**

Department of Animal Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Bayero University, PMB 3011, Kano, Nigeria
* Livestock Production Systems Group, Department of Animal Sciences, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Georg-August University Goettingen, Albrecht-Thaer-Weg 3, Goettingen 37075, Germany
** Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, Faculty of Agriculture, Bayero University, PMB 3011, Kano, Nigeria


A dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius) is a multipurpose domestic animal that remains central to the subsistence, economic and social livelihoods of pastoralists in the study area. This paper analyses and reports the views of pastoralists regarding reproduction, ecotypes, and breeding in dromedary camels in some selected villages of the Nigeria-Niger corridor. Two villages (Kursilla in Diffa Region and Gujjo in Zinder Region) in southeastern Niger Republic and one village (Garin Alkali in Yobe State) in northeastern Nigeria were purposively selected for this study. Data were collected using formal questionnaires and focus group discussion.

Results showed that dromedary camels in the study area mate and calve during the early-dry season of October to December.  Different signs used by pastoralists to detect rut, oestrus and pregnancy in camels were reported. Different camel ecotypes were defined based on coat colour. Though the dark-brown ecotype was the most preferred, camels in the study area were bred more towards an “ideal herd” rather than an “ideal animal”. This probably brings to light a survival strategy that supports pastoral life in a fragile ecosystem, which depends largely on the complementary performance of assortment of camel ecotypes in different seasons of the year. Overall, results show that pastoralists in the current study possess a repertoire of knowledge about their camels which, when harnessed and repackaged according to the peculiarities of their production environments, could enhance the efficiency of their production systems and livelihood.

Key words: abortion, age at first calving, age at first rut, ecotype differentiation, focus group discussion, herd composition


The Niger-Nigeria border region is characterized by extensive, flat drylands, in which transhumant livestock herders move several kilometres north and then south again each year, following the rains and the grazing (Mortimore et al 2008). Sedentary farmers in this region grow crops along a south-north gradient of diminishing rainfall and increasingly erratic distribution. Also, population density is increasing as a result of both natural increase and immigration from more densely settled areas in the south (Mortimore et al 2008). This region, also called the Nigeria-Niger corridor, has a lot of significance for both countries, which include seasonal livestock movement, commerce and cultural heritage. The cities of southern Niger and northern Nigeria have been linked in the Trans-Saharan trade going back to the medieval period (Niger-Nigeria relations 2010). According to Ritter (1988) and Bernus (1990), the introduction of the camel into northern Nigeria could have occurred due to caravan trade links between the Sahara and Sokoto, Katsina or Kano in northern Nigeria, and Fachi and Bilma in the Niger Republic (as cited in Mohammed 2000). 

Dromedaries in Nigeria are concentrated in the semi-arid northern part of the country (Mohammed 2000). Pastoral groups that originate from the Niger Republic own most of the camels in northern Nigeria (Waziri et al 1999). They are the main breeders of the camel (Mohammed and Hoffmann 2006) and can be found in Borno, Yobe, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Zamfara States of northern Nigeria. During their annual transhumant movement they cross into the Niger Republic with most of the breeding herds for 3-4 months at the height of the wet season leaving behind relatively few dromedaries that spend the entire year in Nigeria (Blench 1999). Small-scale camel breeding is, however, undertaken by individual farmers in northern Nigeria (Blench 1999). Some sedentary farmers also keep camel largely as a draught animal for land preparation during the rainy season and for transportation of farm produce during harvest period or for transportation of other goods to and from village markets (Mohammed and Hoffmann 2006). This category of dromedary owners can be described as exploiters rather than producers of the camel.  

The reproductive performance of livestock depends on the genetic potential of the species and breed, the management of the livestock keeper and the production conditions (Kaufmann 2005). Interest in the camel’s reproductive processes only began when its economic benefits became apparent (Yagil 2006). Most camels are found in Third World countries where they provide marketable products. The reproductive efficiency of camel under natural pastoral conditions is said to be low. This could be due to short breeding season, late age of reaching puberty and long gestation period (13 months) (El – Hassanein 2003; Skidmore 2005). Other factors contributing to low fertility in camels include age at first calving, low libido of male thereby reducing breeding opportunities and late postpartum oestrus (El – Hassanein 2003; Al – Qarawi 2005). In addition, poor management practices in the regions where most camels are raised, adversely affect its reproduction and productive performance. 

Few surveys on the views of pastoralists with regards to reproduction in their camel herds are found in the literature (Elmi 1989; Kaufmann 2005; Megersa et al 2008). Any attempt at improving camel reproduction and breeding in a locality should take into cognizance the indigenous knowledge of the pastoralists, their traditional practices, goals and strategies. Knowledge on indigenous breeding methods and characteristics of local camel breeds is a prerequisite for understanding and developing means of improving the pastoral system of camel keeping (Marion et al 2002). There is the absence of a distinct breed classification of the dromedaries found in northern Nigeria (Mohammed 2000), which makes identification of dromedaries to be mainly by body colour and morphology. 

Camel reproduction studies in Nigeria target the pastoralists when their herds are in the country during the annual transhumant movement (Kalla et al 2008) or depend solely on abattoir specimens (Djang et al 1988; Ribadu et al 1991; Waziri et al 1999). The first part of this study which deals with camel reproduction differs in approach from similar studies in Nigeria in the sense that the pastoralists were followed into the Niger Republic with the added advantage of acquiring information from older members. These older members, with many years of camel keeping experience, often do not make it to Nigeria during the annual transhumant movement probably due to advanced age. In the second part, few of the pastoralists that reside in northern Nigeria and those that entered the country weekly from the neighbouring Niger Republic were captured during camel market days in northeastern Nigeria for information on their breeding aims and indigenous characterization of camel ecotypes. This is the first documentation of breeding aims and indigenous characterization of dromedary camels in northern Nigeria. The approaches used in both aspects of the current study were lacking in previous studies in Nigeria. This motivated the present study, which involved a survey with the triple objective of documenting the views of pastoralists on camel reproduction, describing their indigenous criteria for differentiating camel ecotypes and highlighting their breeding aims. 

Materials and methods

Study area

This study was carried out in two phases. The first phase was a documentation of the views of pastoralists on camel reproduction in southeastern Niger. Kursilla village in Maine-Soroa Department of Diffa Region and Gujjo village in Goure Department of Zinder Region, all in southeastern Niger, were purposively selected for the study. Maine-Soroa is located on latitude 13o14’N, longitude 11o59’E and altitude 336 metres (Qwikcast 2003a). It is situated in an agropastoral zone with most of its population being farmers and stockraisers (Maine-Soroa 2010). According to the National Adaptation Programme of Action (2006), Maine-Soroa lies within the Sahel climatic zone of Niger Republic which is characterized by an annual rainfall ranging between 300 and 600 mm, constituting about 10% of the total area of the country and presenting an environment relatively suitable for agriculture (as cited in JAICAF 2009). Goure is located on latitude 13o59’N, longitude 10o18’E and altitude 448 metres (Qwikcast 2003b). Goure is situated on the main all weather east-west highway in southern Niger, about 170 km east of the regional capital, Zinder, on the route east to Diffa, N’Guigmi, and the Lake Chad area (Goure 2010). The north of Goure is sparsely populated by seasonal nomadic encampments, and the area to the east is populated by a majority of settled Kanuri ethnic groups and Toubou pastoralists (Goure 2010). Goure lies within the Sahel and Sahara climatic zone of Niger Republic, which is characterized by an annual rainfall of between 150 and 300 mm, forms about 12% of the country, covered with vegetation of herbaceous species of the steppes, and suitable for pastoral activities (National Adaptation Programme of Action 2006; as cited in JAICAF 2009). 

The second phase of this study was on the indigenous criteria for differentiating camel ecotypes and pastoralists’ breeding aims. Garin Alkali livestock market in Bursari Local Government Area of Yobe State in northeastern Nigeria was purposively selected. The market is reputable in northeastern Nigeria with respect to the volume of camel marketing activities going on weekly. The market day is every Sunday of the week. Bursari Local Government Area (latitude 12o29’25”N, longitude 11o29’40”E) has an area of 3, 818 km2 and a population of 109, 124 according to the 2006 census (Bursari 2010). The area is flat in terms of topography, located in the North-East Arid Zone of Nigeria and characterized by pockets of surface pools of water forming the wetland (Makinde et al 2010). 

Sampling, data collection and analysis

Two different approaches were used for sampling and data collection. To understand the views of pastoralists regarding camel reproduction, the accidental or convenience sampling technique,  non-probabilistic in nature, suggested by Tezera (1998), as cited in Mehari et al (2007), was adopted. This is due to the mobile, scattered and less accessible nature of pastoral communities.  However, in the course of the sampling some snowball technique was also employed especially in Kursilla village (Maine-Soroa Department). A total of 60 respondents were interviewed using structured questionnaire in a single visit formal survey conducted in July 2010. Pastoralists’ socio-economic characteristics such as age, sex, experience, herd size, etc. were collected. In addition, information on camel reproduction and breeding were captured, including rutting, mating, pregnancy, calving, lactation, weaning, castration, signs of reproductive disease, choice of camel breeding bull, primary purpose of keeping bulls, functions of camels, and reasons for culling camels. The respondents in Kursilla village were more mobile, scattered and less accessible than those in Gujjo village (Goure Department), hence the wide disparity in the number of respondents between the two areas (15 vs. 45).  

To explore the indigenous criteria for differentiating camel ecotypes and their breeding aims, first, a focus group discussion was conducted. Thereafter, each pastoralist was interviewed using a structured questionnaire to capture their breeding aims. Twenty-five camel pastoralists who were in the Garin Alkali livestock market participated in the study. This component of the study commenced at the beginning of the market day and ended at the close of market on August 8, 2010. The focus group discussion was guided by themes from the moderator following Marion et al (2002). Participants were allowed ample time to discuss with minimal interference from the moderator or other participants. The responses of individual participants were recorded using a digital voice recorder and were transcribed later. As for the breeding aims, aspects captured in the questionnaire were also adopted from Marion et al (2002). Data collected included: current camel ecotype that makes up the dams in the actual herd, camel ecotype from which pastoralists prefer to choose female camels in the case of a hypothetical herd, camel ecotype of current bull, and camel ecotype of previous bull.

Data collected were coded, entered, and analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS Inc. version 16, 2007). Descriptive statistics such as frequencies, percentages and graphs were generated. 


Camel reproduction in southeastern Niger
Pastoralists’ socio-economic characteristics

The pastoralists interviewed were all males. The respondents’ average age was 47.1 years, ranging from 20 to 85 years.  Almost all respondents were married (only one was single). They all had the religious form of education. On average, pastoralists have been keeping camels for 31.7 years (ranging from 3 to 70 years), and owned approximately 312 heads of camel (which varies from 1 to 1300 heads) that included both male and female camels.  In addition, pastoralists own other livestock types, including (in descending order of importance) sheep, cattle, goats, donkeys, horses and chickens. The sources of acquiring camel were inheritance, purchase and gifts. Overall, approximately 92% of the respondents obtained their income solely from livestock keeping while the rest were engaged in both livestock and crop farming or livestock keeping and trading.  

Camel functions, choice of bull and reasons for culling

Functions of camels as revealed by this study include milk for household consumption, meat, cash from sale of camels, transport, culture, draught power, hump fat for cooking, social security, and skin (Figure 1). It was observed that the sale of camel milk in the study area was viewed as a taboo. Pastoralists mainly consume the milk at home and offer it as a gesture to their guests.

Figure 1. Functions of camels according to respondent pastoralists in southeastern Niger (n = 60)

Performance, conformation and colour were the most important factors that determined the pastoralist’ choice of camel breeding bull while breeding was the main purpose for keeping the camel bull (Table 1). Reasons given for culling camels include size, conformation, colour, temperament, health condition, body condition, poor performance, old age, poor fertility, and poor pedigree (Figure 2). For the camel bull, the most important reason for culling was conformation while in the case of the camel cow old age was the most prominent (Figure 2). 

Table 1. Respondent pastoralists’ reasons for choice of camel breeding bull and primary purpose of keeping bulls in southeastern Niger (n = 60)


Percentage of respondents

Choice of breeding bull














Reason for keeping bull






Draught power




Cash income


Source: Field Survey (2010). Multiple responses were allowed.

Figure 2. Reasons for culling camels according to respondent pastoralists in southeastern Niger (n = 60)
Description of camel reproduction by respondent pastoralists

The respondent pastoralists mentioned that the male camel exhibits rutting during the early-dry season between October and December which coincides with the period of the year that is usually cold. They described some signs typical of the male camel in rut which includes splayed stance, extrusion of the soft palate, gurgling sound, hostility, urine splashing, tail flapping, marking territory, metallic sound, inappetence, frothing of saliva, and poll gland secretion. They reported a mean age at first rut of 6.60 years (Table 2). Some prominent signs of oestrus in the female camel were frequent urination, vulval discharge, vulval swelling, male seeking, bleating, foul vulval odour, tail raising, inappetence, grouping of camel cows, and cows mounting one another.  

Hand mating was reported to be the predominant mating method practiced. Bull and heifer mean ages at first mating were 5.63 and 3.85 years, respectively (Table 2). The mean ratio of camel cows to a camel bull during the mating season was 47.8 cows per bull (Table 2). Mean length of mating was 26.3 minutes (Table 2). When asked how early they can detect pregnant camels in the herd, most of the pastoralists interviewed responded that they will be able to do so within an average of 10.9 days (Table 2). They mentioned frequent urination, tail “cocking”, upward head tilting with pointed ears and curved neck towards the shoulder on approach of a bull as some of the prominent signs of pregnancy in the camel. They further reported a mean gestation period of 12.1 months (Table 2).  

Mean calving parameters reported include age at first calving (4.76 years), length of calving (29.8 minutes), postpartum oestrus (5.27 months), calving interval (23.8 months), and number of calvings in a lifetime (8.49 calves) (Table 2). They also identified the early-dry season (October to December) as the mating and calving periods. Pregnant camels were observed to mostly calve while lying but could also do so while standing. Pregnant camels gave birth to singleton in all the responses recorded. No cases of twinning were reported. The position of the foetus during calving was also reported to be anterior (cranial longitudinal) presentation. 

According to respondent pastoralists, mean lactation in the dromedary in the study area was 11.8 months (Table 2). The mean time for milk flow when the calf was made to suckle was 4.92 minutes (Table 2). The dromedary calf was weaned between 12 and 16 months with a mean of 12.4 months (Table 2). The mean castration age was 8.62 years (Table 2). When asked whether they castrate their camels, all respondents answered in the affirmative and gave improved meat quality, control breeding and better temperament as three most important reasons for castration. 

Table 2. Summary of the descriptive analysis of some camel reproduction variables as reported by respondent pastoralists in southeastern Niger (n = 60)






Age at first rut (years)






Bull age at first mating (years)

Heifer age at first mating (years)

Ratio camel cows/ camel bull during mating season

Length of mating (minutes)






















Time taken to detect pregnancy traditionally (days)

Pregnancy length (months)














Age at first calving (years)

Length of calving (minutes)

Postpartum oestrus (months)

Calving interval (months)

Number of calvings in a lifetime


























Length of lactation (months)

Time taken for milk flow  to commence (minutes)

Age at weaning (months)

















Castration age (years)





Source: Field Survey (2010). The numbers in the second column are means of the outcomes of responses with respect to each question asked.

Signs of reproductive disease seen by respondents since one year include abortion, still birth, swollen testes and joints, retained placenta, giving birth to weak calf, and cycling female (Table 3). The most common sign of reproductive disease noticed by 90% of respondent pastoralists and which recorded the highest number of cases was abortion (Table 3). Underfeeding was the main reason given by pastoralists as a probable cause of abortion in the pregnant dromedary. Ingestion of range plants such as, Leptadenia pyrotechnica (“Kalumbo” in local language) and Leptadenia lancifolia (“Yadiya” in local language), extreme thirst, beating, and forced mating while pregnant were other reasons given as possible causes of abortion in the pregnant dromedary. When asked what decision they take on frequently aborting camel, the majority of the respondents mentioned selling. As for management of the aborted foetus, the majority of them leave it on the field where the abortion took place. 

Table 3. Reported cases of signs of reproductive disease observed by respondent pastoralists since one year in southeastern Niger (n = 60)


Percentage of respondents

Total case(s)

Case(s) per respondent

















Birth to weak calf








Cycling female








Swollen testes and joints








Retained placenta




Source: Field Survey (2010). Multiple responses were allowed.

Camel ecotypes and breeding aims among pastoralists in northeastern Nigeria
Indigenous criteria for differentiating camel ecotypes

In the course of the focus group discussion, two main opinions were identified. There were those that opined that milk yield, calf weight, persistence of lactation, body strength during lactation, dry season tolerance, long-watering interval tolerance, fat content of the hump in rainy and dry seasons, udder size, body size, stomach size, body size at birth, body width, ear size and position, tail length, and neck length and width are not related to the camel ecotype but rather a function of their ancestry (pedigree). They mentioned a strain called “ezgir” that has a tendency to grow rapidly and this strain can be found in all ecotypes irrespective of their coat colour. They also stressed the importance of nutrition in terms of body reserves in the expression of traits such as milk yield, fat content of the hump in rainy and dry seasons and dry season tolerance. 

The second group opined that apart from distinct coat colour there are differences in some traits between the ecotypes. They related the dark-brown, grey-white and pied coloured ecotypes to high milk yield during the rainy season. The calves from the dark-brown and pied coloured ecotypes were also associated with increased weight gain during the rainy season which could be due to adequate milk intake from their dams as a result of availability of abundant pastures. In terms of lactation persistency, the dark-brown was ranked the best ecotype. The brown-black ecotype was described as one that withstands the adversity of the dry season while the grey-white was described as a poor performer in the dry season but strong and beautiful and produces milk during the rainy season. The black ecotype was identified as good for draught power and strong at watering points but poor in terms of growth rate and milk yield. The sand-brown ecotype was described as a good riding animal. 

Breeding aims

The dark-brown ecotype constitutes 56% of the dam ecotypes in the actual camel herds of pastoralists in the study area (Figure 3). Other dam ecotypes in the actual herd were sand-brown (15%), grey-white (17%), pied coloured (5%), and brown-black (7%) (Figure 3). When asked to mention the ecotypes they will prefer to choose their dams from in the case of a hypothetical herd, 72% of pastoralists preferred the dark-brown (Figure 3). Other preferred ecotypes mentioned were sand-brown (12%), grey-white (8%), pied coloured (4%), and brown-black (4%) (Figure 3). When asked why they prefer the dark-brown ecotype, pastoralists’ responses were good growth rates, high milk yield, high reproductive efficiency, aesthetic reasons, symbol of opulence, attracts more price in the market, resist hunger and thirst (hardy), draught power, and religious reasons.

Figure 3. Actual dam ecotype composition in pastoral camel herds and hypothetical composition of camel dam ecotypes preferred by respondent pastoralists in northeastern Nigeria

The dark-brown ecotype was also found to top the list of ecotypes of camel bull used for mating currently and previously in pastoralist herds in the study area (Figure 4). Reasons given by pastoralists for replacement of mating bulls were expiry of reproductive life span, sale and change in location of previous bull, yearly switching of bulls for mating, death of previous bull, aesthetic reasons, and replacement by offspring of previous bull. Respondent pastoralists described the reproductive life span of camel bulls used for mating as 17 years and those without a breeding bull of their own mentioned that they depend on a communal mating system that utilizes a bull belonging to their fellow pastoralists.

Figure 4. Ecotypes of camel bull used for mating currently and previously in respondent pastoralists’ herds in northeastern Nigeria


Camel reproduction

According to Yagil (1982), the rut is confined to the cooler and wetter seasons, corresponding to the availability of food when the calf is born. Rutting is partly influenced by age and level of nutrition (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). Rut in the dromedary bull is probably best described by Fowler (2000) who wrote that, “In the breeding group, the dominant bull walks the perimeter of his herd and exhibits a threat display to any male approaching the herd. This dominant male is in rut. His poll glands secrete a foul smelling brownish liquid. He spreads his hind legs apart and while urinating flips his tail up and down, throwing urine up and over the back. The accumulation of dirt in the urine soaked hair fibres may produce a heavy-odouriferous crust on the back. At the same time, saliva, whipped into froth, starts to flow from the mouth and he extrudes the dulaa. All the while, he is grinding his teeth and emitting a gurgling or blubbering vocalization”.  Bhakat et al (2005) categorized rutting signs in Indian dromedary camel into rutting behavioural frequency parameters and rutting behavioural intensity parameters. Rutting behavioural frequency parameters observed were extrusion of soft palate (per minute), flapping of tail (per minute), micturition (urination) frequency (per hour), and urine spreading on the back (per hour). Rutting behavioural intensity parameters reported were frothing of salivary secretion, making metallic and gurgling sound, back leg separate apart, flow of poll secretion and marking territory (Bhakat et al 2005). In the current study rutting signs were not categorized as reported by Bhakat et al (2005) but the majority of the signs mentioned by them were observed. The effect of twice a day parading of male camels in front of herd of female camels in augmenting rut in male camel was investigated by Vyas et al (2001). They revealed that behavioural signs of rut were expressed by all four experimental male camels and intromission and complete act of copulation could be performed only by two (50%) male camels. 

During the oestrous period the female dromedary shows both anatomical and nervous signs of heat (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). She is generally restless, seeking the company of the male and tending to bleat continuously (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). Singh (1963) and Singh (1966) reported a swollen vulva during oestrus in the dromedary, often associated with discharge (as cited in Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). Droandi (1915) observed that oestral camel cows emitted a penetrating, foul smell from the vulva that could be perceived over long distances, but which had an excitative effect on the male camel (as cited in Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). To a large extent the findings of the present study with respect to signs of oestrus corroborated those of the aforementioned authors. 

It is common for camel herders to aid the entrance of the male penis into the female genitalia, although males are also capable of locating the vulval opening on their own by rotating the erect penis on its longitudinal axis (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). This corroborates the findings of the current study where majority of the pastoralists practiced hand mating. A rutting camel bull normally mates about 50 camel cows (Elmi 1989). However, there is considerable divergence as to the ideal ratio of male to females during the breeding season (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). Major determining factors include the management practices of pastoralists, the condition and stamina of the male, his libido and the fertility level of the females (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). The mean mating ratio reported in the present study agrees with Elmi (1989). 

When the camel bull is five years old, it is allowed to breed a few five-year old females (Elmi 1989). The female camel reaches puberty at about three years of age, but breeding is usually not allowed until four years (Ismail 1987). This is perhaps because fecundity increases with age, even after sexual maturity and only starts to decline with senility (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). The breeding age of the female camel as reported in the current study agrees with the findings of Ismail (1987) but that of the male camel was above the figure reported by Elmi (1989) which could be due to the reasons given by Mukasa-Mugerwa (1981).  Leese (1927), Burgemeister (1975) and Rakhimzhanov (1975) reported that copulation among camels may last 12 to 30 minutes (as cited in Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). The mean length of mating reported in this study fell within the range given by previous authors.

According to Yagil (2006), a pregnant camel will show it by lifting and curving her tail (tail “cocking”) when a male camel advances toward her. The male then moves away looking for another receptive female. This is the method used by nomads to determine pregnancy in she-camels (Yagil 2006). The symptoms of pregnancy reported in the present study were corroborated by the findings of Elmi (1989) among Ceeldheer pastoralists in central Somalia. Using these symptoms, Ceeldheer pastoralists were able to detect pregnancy within 10 days after mating due to their professional experience in camel breeding. Gestation length of camels ranged from 354 to 407 days (Almutairi et al 2010). The mean gestation length in the current study was within the range mentioned by Almutairi et al (2010). Elias et al (1991) reported that camel cows in the Negev desert that conceive early in the breeding season tended to have longer lengths of gestation than those that conceived late in the breeding season. 

Kalla et al (2008) reported a mean age at first calving and calving interval of 5.17 and 2.82 years, respectively, among pastoral camel herds at the Komodugu-Yobe River basin in northeastern Nigeria. The mean values for age at first calving and calving interval in the current study were less than those reported by Kalla et al (2008). Megersa et al (2008) observed a reduction in the age at first calving due to use of veterinary services which shows the role health care plays in enhancing sexual maturity and subsequent productivity. Also, inadequate body weight resulting from low plane of nutrition could be a possible cause of delayed age at first calving in camels (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). The calving interval in the dromedary could be prolonged due to (i) the lengthy gestation period, (ii) the limited breeding season and (iii) late postpartum oestrus (frequently 1 year after parturition) (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). Megersa et al (2008) have shown that significantly prolonged calving intervals were recorded because mating is intentionally avoided by camel herders owing to its negative effect on milk yield, lactation length and calf survival rate. In general, seasonal feed availability, long lactation anoestrus and infectious diseases are among the factors that contribute to prolonged calving intervals in camels (Megersa et al 2008). 

Delivery process on average takes 24 minutes in the dromedary (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). The mean length of calving (29.8 minutes) in the current study was above the mean reported by Mukasa-Mugerwa (1981). The causes of prolonged labour may be related to foetal or maternal factors (Fowler and Bravo 2010). Foetal factors include malposition and congenital defects while maternal factors include uterine torsion, uterine inertia, failure of cervix to dilate, malformed pelvis, and stenosis of the vagina (Fowler and Bravo 2010). 

The most common normal presentation of the camel foetus is cranial longitudinal, with a dorsosacral position and the head lying dorsal to the extended limbs (Fowler and Bravo 2010) which corroborates the findings of the current study. However, a slight variant of this may occur, with the limbs positioned over the top of the head. Kalla et al (2008) reported that the cold dry season (November to February) was the period of peak calving among pastoral camel herds at the Komodugu-Yobe River basin in northeastern Nigeria. The calving period reported in the current study somewhat falls within this range. According to Gauthier-Pilters (1959), parturition in the camel generally occurs with the dam in a lying position, although delivery in the standing position is also possible (as cited in Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). The findings of Gauthier-Pilters (1959), as cited in Mukasa-Mugerwa (1981) was corroborated by the present study. 

Incidence of natural twinning in camels is extremely low and more often than not when twin pregnancies progress past 40 days abortion is more common than live birth (Tinson et al 2001). No report of natural twinning was recorded in the current study. The length of the camel's reproductive life varies, but some females continue to breed until 20 years old (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). According to Elmi (1998), a camel female can be bred for about 22 years and about 10 calves can be produced within the 22 year period. The mean calves mentioned by Elmi (1989) fell within the range for number of calvings reported in the present study. According to Mukasa-Mugerwa (1981), when well fed and managed some camels live up to 40 years, and in spite of a calving interval approaching 2 years the camel is still capable of producing as many progeny as most pastoral cattle. 

Lactation length in the female camel varies from one region to another (from 8 to 24 months) (Tibari and Anouassi 2000). The mean length of lactation reported in the present study corroborates the findings of Tibari and Annouassi (2000). The duration of the lactation period depends on race, parturition, climate and food conditions (Eberlein 2007). Although the lactation period may last up to 2 years, the camel calf is generally weaned much earlier, at any time between 3 and 18 months under traditional pastoral systems, the average being 12 months (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). The mean age at weaning reported in the current study fell within the range given by Mukasa-Mugerwa (1981). 

Megersa et al (2008) in their study on performance of camels in Borana, southern Ethiopia, reported that two females were found to be pregnant about a month post calving due to accidental mating. Also, Hammadi et al (2001), as cited in Megersa et al (2008), observed the return of sexual activity in dromedary one month after calving and reported that average postpartum intervals to the first heat were 29.5 days in traditionally managed camels. According to Williamson and Payne (1978), postpartum oestrus is normally delayed for about 1 year, although a few females come back into heat as early as 1 month after parturition (as cited in Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). The level of nutrition is a factor here, since when feed supplies are inadequate, maintenance, growth and lactation take priority over reproductive performance, which becomes a physiological luxury (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). The range for postpartum oestrus as reported in the current study agrees with the findings of Williamson and Payne (1978) (as cited in Mukasa-Mugerwa, 1981), Hammadi et al (2001) (as cited in Megersa et al 2008) and Megersa et al (2008). 

Males not reserved for breeding are often castrated and the ideal age to castrate camel is 4-6 years (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). In the present study, castration of male camels was commonly practiced and was performed much later than the age reported by Mukasa-Mugerwa (1981). Castrates are more manageable and make better working animals (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1981). 

Ecotype and breeding aims

The overall impression from the focus group discussion was that pastoralists differentiate their camel ecotypes solely based on coat colour, though they also believed that some ecotypes were more efficient than others in the expression of certain traits. This assertion needs further investigation because these ecotypes could be of the same breed or of different breeds, the veracity of which could only be proven by molecular genetic studies. 

Although the majority of the respondent camel pastoralists were tilted towards the dark-brown ecotype as the “ideal animal”, as evident in the proportion of this ecotype in the actual and hypothetical herds; they still preferred to have an assortment of dams from different ecotypes. It can, therefore, be safely assumed that camel pastoralists in the study area subscribed more to the idea of an “ideal herd” rather than an “ideal animal” which probably brings to light a survival strategy that depends on the ability of dam ecotypes to complement one another with regards to performance in different seasons of the year in order to support pastoral life in a fragile ecosystem. The concept of “ideal herd” rather than “ideal animal” is corroborated by the findings of Marion et al (2002) in their work on indigenous characterization of local camel populations and breeding methods of pastoralists in northern Kenya. It can also be implied that the dark-brown ecotype could be a multipurpose ecotype considering the various claims made by pastoralists as regards its qualities. This is subject to further empirical studies to verify these claims which at the moment should at best be treated as anecdotal data. 



The authors acknowledge the constructive criticisms and suggestions of Raphael Fiagbomeh, Enoch Kikulwe, Sahar Babiker Abdalla and Hippolyte Dossa. We also appreciate the assistance of the key informants and camel owners in making the research possible. 


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Received 28 March 2011; Accepted 18 July 2011; Published 3 August 2011

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